How to Pick a Winning Horse

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Picking a winner can be tough, but our best five tips will help narrow down the field to just one standout runner.

Horse racing is one of those sports that has many variables, so a lot needs to go right for the winning horse. However, having an edge before the race is run is important for punters.

In this article, we discuss things such as barriers and weights, but firstly, the most important tip for picking a winning horse is finding value.

How do you pick a winning horse?

1. Find the value

Picking winners is fun, but betting on horses at a price we didn’t like is a horrible feeling.

What do we mean by that?

If you think a horse is going to win the next race at Randwick, but bookmakers are offering $1.80, that doesn’t mean you automatically back that horse.

You might think those odds are too short, so instead of backing it, you wait for a better value betting opportunity.

But what if the horse wins?

You have given up a winning selection, but you’ll find yourself winning more money if you have patience. If the horse loses, you have not only backed a loser, but you weren’t going to get your desired odds to begin with.

It’s not necessarily a rule to picking a winner, but it’s the rule every punter should put above the rest.

Sometimes you’ll have to pass on a horse you think will win, and that’s OK. Betting on horse racing is all about waiting for the best time to strike.

2. Form matters, but it’s not everything

If form runners continued to win every race, betting on horse racing would be a piece of cake.

It’s good to follow horses that are in form, because confidence levels are high and the horse is generally in fit condition.

However, conditions of the race play a huge factor. For instance, a horse might have form of 26774, which isn’t overly appealing. However, its last four starts all came at group level and now it’s dropping back to a benchmark 90 grade.

It has the class edge over the field, despite not having the best form. Punters need to look for these runners, as they can escape the bookmakers’ eye.

3. Hot jockeys are hot for a reason

You often hear someone say “that jockey is hot,” but they’re not talking about their looks.

A hot jockey is worth following, especially at the big carnivals. They get confident and a confident jockey is a better jockey.

We have all backed a learning apprentice and wondered why they didn’t give the horse every chance. Whilst we go easy on apprentices, backing the experienced and in-form senior riders is the way to go.

For example, James McDonald used to win the first race with great frequency. Therefore, punters would back him in Race 1 and make a tidy profit.

These trends and hot jockeys won’t continue forever, so you need to identify when a jockey has lost their touch.

Conversely, stay away from the jockeys that couldn’t win aboard Winx in a maiden contest.

4. Barriers

Barriers are relatively boring and mundane, but they are important when picking a winner.

In most cases, the wider the barrier, the less chance they have of winning. It’s not always true, but sticking with the horse with good barriers is the way to go.

It doesn’t matter so much over staying distances, as horses from out wide have a chance to find cover. However, if a horse draws barrier 14 in a sprint contest, they’re already behind the eight ball.

Something to look out for are horses drawn barrier one. If they like to get back in the race and make a late run, drawing the inside barrier is a negative.

If they like to lead, drawing the inside barrier is ideal.

5. Weights

Weights aren’t the be-all-end-all of picking a winner, but they are important in handicap races.

Take the Doncaster Mile for an example; it’s rarely won by the top weighted horses, because under handicap conditions, talented three-year-old thoroughbreds carry around 50kg.

It doesn’t so much in midweek maidens, but races like the Doncaster Mile, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup factor weights in heavily.

6: A light relief (bonus tip)

It might seem crass, but if you see a horse ‘relieving’ itself before the race, it could pay to jump on.

It shows that a horse is relaxed and ready to run. Many trainers often jump to the tote when this happens, so look out for it, but not too closely!

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About Daryl Curnow

After graduating from the University of Auckland (BA - English), Daryl was thrown into the world of sports and horse racing journalism. Having worked as a racing journalist for two years, he decided to move into the online world of horse racing and sports writing. Coupled with his love of US sport, Daryl's picks have been featured on various websites around the world and viewed by millions of readers. After years of honing his craft, Daryl became a professional punter in 2009 - with a focus on horse racing, NBA, NFL, and college sports. When he's not working, Daryl tries to avoid making bogeys on the golf course.